By Olivier Caslin
Posted on Friday, 27 January 2023 16:53, updated on Sunday, 29 January 2023 22:59

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he stands next to his Ethiopian counterpart Abiy Ahmed in Jerusalem September 1, 2019. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun – RC1B2FD64860

Israel, a key economic partner of the African continent since the 1960s, is hoping to regain its former influence there.

“For nearly 20 years, companies and various non-governmental organisations have been much more active in Africa than the Israeli public authorities,” says Galia Zabar, a specialist on Africa at Tel Aviv University. At the forefront of economic and commercial relations on the continent, business rubs shoulders with development aid.

The Israelis appear to be contributing to African countries by introducing various technological innovations – agricultural and hydraulic in the past, digital and financial in the present – which have helped the continent to develop in just a few decades. Israel’s geography and climate is quite similar to a large part of Africa.

‘Fixing the world’

“Israel has made it its mission to save the weakest,” says one of its citizens, who’s also been a consultant in Africa for over 40 years. In recent weeks, the minister of foreign affairs, Eli Cohen, proposed a policy that would form one of the pillars of Israeli diplomacy in Africa. It is inspired by the traditional Jewish concept known as tikkun olam, which translates to “repairing the world” in Hebrew.

With this philosophy in mind, Israel committed itself to the newly independent African countries in the 1960s. This was until the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) – the forerunner of the AU, which was then under strong Libyan influence – started boycotting Israel in 1973.

Since then, there has been no relationship between Africa and Israel “or almost [no relationship]”, says Aliza Iqbal, who worked for Mashav, the Israeli governmental agency for international cooperation, in the early 2000s before joining the private Pears Foundation to develop its support programmes for Africa. This illustrates the direction that the relationship between Israel and Africa is heading.